I spent a significant amount of time planning our trip to the UK, and although the hubs gave a lot of great input and did some helpful research, much of the ideas and implementation was up to me. Having already traveled in England six years prior, I was the “expert” of the two of us. I knew I didn’t just want to stay in London the whole time. Using London as a home base, however, made for easy accessibility to a number of day-trip destinations. With seven full days in England, four of which were in London, I utilized three of the days to explore 2 cities I had been to, and one other I had been longing to visit.
There are a plethora of day trips you can take from London, as my new travel buddy, Rick Steves, mentions in his guide book for London (aka my travel Bible). Having been to a number of them already thanks to my incredible study abroad class, I picked two of my favorites: Oxford and Canterbury. My third selection is a place my romantic British literature heart had always dreamed of experiencing: Bath.
Oxford is the quintessential origin of all Ivy-League schools, except that it is truly old. The gothic style buildings, rather than replicas of past creations, were truly gothic. The university itself is comprised of 38 colleges and 6 permanent
private halls, each of which are self-governing. You don’t just go to Oxford – you go to a specific college in Oxford. The university formed originally in 12th century, and the oldest colleges represented are University College, Balliol and Merton, all constructed in the 13th century. Needless to say, it is delightfully old, in that “Wow, there is so much history around here my head may explode,” kind of way.
We took a mid-morning train to Oxford on September 2nd, and thankfully it was just over an hour to reach our destination. Both Oxford and Cambridge are exceedingly accessible via train from London, and given that we could walk to Paddington Station from our hotel, it made the trip that much more simplistic. We arrived in Oxford at about noon and walked our way into the city center in search for the local bookshop. Rather than try to meander our way through the interwoven web of colleges, the hubs and I decided to take a tour. We were thrilled (okay, maybe it was more I was thrilled) to find out that there was a literary tour of Oxford set to start in just about 20 minutes after our arrival at Blackwell’s Bookshop (as my professor put it, “The best bookshop in the world.”).
Our incredible and exceedingly knowledgeable guide, Peter, was a sophisticated older chap who loved regaling us with stories of his travels throughout America. His literary knowledge, although daunting, was fascinating to listen to, and made my English major heart so happy. Two other visitors joined us for the tour, one fiery woman from Scotland, and her British friend. Our little group set off, first passing by Trinity College, where a number of period pieces (aka Jane Austen) have been filmed. Instead we crossed the street and meandered through Wadham College. The beautiful structure housed Sir Christopher Wren (St. Paul’s Cathedral, among many other incredible architectural gems), and boasts one of the most incredible English gardens I have seen, including another designated just for faculty.
After touring Wadham, we moved on towards the original wall built around the city, as Peter put it, to “Keep out the rubbish and poor-folk.” We passed the infamous Turf Tavern, where former President Clinton “did not inhale.” We made our way onto the “right” side of the wall and worked our way through an alley to the Hertford Bridge (the Bridge of Sighs) which arcs over New College Lane, and into the “center” by the Bodleian Library (which boasts columns of each of the five orders in classical architecture), Radcliffe Camera (the gorgeous round reading room), and University Church. This area is what stood out the most from our original trip, and it was surreal being back here. The age of the buildings range from the 13th century to the 18th century, yet the styling works seamlessly together.
We crossed over the High Street, which curves along Oxford with a number of other colleges, and wandered down Magpie lane to see the now-converted inn where Shakespeare would stay during his travels through Oxford. Devastatingly enough the building is now a Pizza Express (think Pizza Hut), but the room he slept in has been mostly untouched (except for the tables and chairs running through the middle). Finally we passed by the Bear, the oldest pub in Oxford, The Bear, established in 1242. Finally, we passed Christ Church College, birthplace of “Alice in Wonderland,” and then entered the main square of Exeter College, the fourth oldest constituent college of Oxford. Even with this incredible tour, we barely scratched the surface.
After the tour, the hubs and I wandered back towards High Street to make our way to the beautifully peaceful Christ Church Meadow. We made our way back to the Turf Tavern for cider and cask ale, grabbed dinner along the High Street, and ended the day with another beverage at The Bear. You can’t go to Oxford without going to their oldest pub! Supposedly there used to be bear fights in the basement, but I haven’t yet verified this information.
After a fantastic end to a very productive day (we did take 22,103 steps that day…), we made our way past the Oxford Castle to the train station, and back “home” to London.
Have you ever been to Oxford – what’s your favorite pub there? What is one day trip you’d recommend from London? Anyone else just love getting lost in time in the history of the UK?